Kansas senior Udoka Azubuike, who missed all but nine games of the 2018-19 season because of the second significant wrist injury of his career, has been cleared to return to basketball activities.
Azubuike, who suffered the injury to his right wrist during a practice just before the start of Big 12 play last December — shortly after returning from an ankle sprain that also forced him to miss a few nonconference games — continued to work on his conditioning and support his teammates throughout the 2018-19 season while sitting in street clothes on game nights.
His return was one of three crucial offseason storylines that figure to play a big role in what kind of team Kansas coach Bill Self can field during the 2019-20 season.
On Tuesday morning, Self was a guest on Andy Katz’s podcast, “March Madness 365,” and the two talked about Azubuike’s return.
“He hasn’t been full speed or contact yet,” Self said of the 7-foot senior from Nigeria, who suffered almost the exact same injury to his left wrist during his freshman season at KU. "They let him put a ball in his wrist about the last 4-6 weeks, but no contact. … We’ll probably bring him in slowly, but he can start working out and there shouldn’t be any limitations.”
The magnitude of the impact of Azubuike’s return, both to the court and to KU for his senior season, was not lost on Katz or Self.
“His growth has probably been stunted a little bit (because of injuries), but, at full potential, I think he could probably be as good of a back-to-the-basket, true 5 man as there is,” Self said. “I think he can be the hardest back-to-the-basket player to guard. You know, he’s just so big and athletic and he’s got soft hands. And he was off to a pretty good start last year. When you talk about patrolling the paint, there won’t be many out there who can do it like he can.”
Azubuike, sans cast, was over in Topeka on Tuesday afternoon helping work the Washburn basketball camp. In addition to signing autographs and playing around with campers during drills, the 7-footer talked to the campers about work ethic, living in and enjoying every moment and giving your all every time you step on the court.
Azubuike on Tuesday declined interview requests from a handful of reporters at Washburn’s Lee Arena.
Speaking of walk-ons and injuries, Elijah Elliott, a 6-foot-3, 185-pound redshirt freshman from Carroll High School in Southlake, Texas, said Tuesday that he, too, had been medically cleared to resume basketball activity after rehabbing a torn meniscus in his right knee that forced him to miss his freshman season at KU.
Elliott said he was fully cleared late last week and planned to get back on the court with his teammates for the first time in months during the Jayhawks’ first team workout of the summer on Tuesday. Summer classes also began Tuesday.
“Fully cleared, I’m back,” Elliott said. “Having to sit out last year was different, but it was a good learning experience. I think it taught me a lot about who I was. Before the injury, I didn’t know, mentally, how to prepare for stuff down the road.”
In addition to being thrilled about his own return, Elliott also said he was looking forward to his first glimpse of the 2019-20 Jayhawks.
“It’s always fun coming back and seeing everybody and seeing what they’ve worked on and getting to know your new teammates,” he said. “It’s always a good time.”